Mount Shasta 14,179 feet (4,322 m) was a first mountain I attempted and climbed. It is a mountain whose beauty and challenges attract thousands of climber each year. Mountain which has several different glaciers, ridges, routes that are appropriate for beginners, challenging for experienced climbers, and beauty that is appreciated by all. Aside from being beautiful, challenging, most voluminous stratovolcano in Cascade Volcanic Arc, I feel as if the energy that surrounds Shasta is a lot different from other places I visit. This mountain has something mystical to it, something that makes me feel more spiritual, something I can't explain. When I recall Anatoli Boukreev's quote "Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion...I go to them as humans go to worship." I can really state that Shasta is a great cathedral!
After my friends and I climbed Whitney's MR in winter we wanted a different challenge. Something that all were not sure about was possible for us at this point. We wanted to attempt one of CA 14ers as a day-hike (parking lot to summit). No one had any objections after we decided to attempt a classic route on Mt. Shasta-Casaval Ridge (class 4). We set the date for weekend of April 24-25th.
After taking a few days off after Whitney I started conditioning for our new adventure. I did more of the same stuff that worked for Whitney (going up and down a steep city block with 5.5 gallons of water in my pack for 2-3 hours, stationary bike for an hour on level 7-10, and some running-5 miles). Also, I was really happy to find out I was able to sign up for a trip to Shasta on April 16-18th with Bay Area Mountaineering meetup.com group (just a week before). On this trip we took Green Butte/Sargent's ridge route over two days, two nights (success). I believe after this trip I gained needed confidence to attempt Casaval as a day hike, and also climbed up to over 14K just a week before we were going up there again. I believe it helped me a lot to feel ok on our day-hike of Casaval ridge.
Me excited to leave Bunny Flat parking lot at 00:30 am
We arrived at Shasta city and all had giant meals at Black Bear cafe. I suggest this place to anyone who is attempting Shasta, or to whoever is passing by this town and wants to eat. Food is great, portions are big, prices are very affordable. After we ate, we drove up to Bunny Flat parking lot (got there at about 3pm Saturday), set up a tent next to our car, looked at the beautiful mountain, talked to some skiers/ranger, rested a bit, ate more food at 7pm, rested more till 11:30pm, broke our "camp," gathered our day-packs, ate some oatmeal/banana and started our attempt at 00:30am.
If you want class 4, take this way
traversing up on Casaval
One of the skiers (Shane) we met on Saturday joined us for beginning of our hike. The night we picked was amazing. Moon was almost full, and we did not use our head lamps for a good part of our trek up to the ridge. Winds on the approach were very calm. We passed by a Sierra Club house which was more than half buried in the snow. We stayed together with Shane for a first hour or so but at some point he fell too far behind. He caught up when we were getting done with putting on our crampons but that was last time we saw him, since he had to put on his. On our way up to the ridge we saw two headlamps. As we were getting closer to joining the ridge we realized these people are EXTREMELY slow, and it was obvious that the winds on the ridge were harsh. After we got on the ridge we continued to push up. We saw those two headlamps and maybe two-three more behind us. As we climbed up they continued to decrease in size and at some point were no longer there. One thing that was there all day was the wind. I would rate it as 26-30+mph gusts of wind that were constantly blowing at us. On the way up the ridge we kept as close to the rocks (to the right of us) as possible. At one point we got to an elevated point which required us to choose between getting over to the other side of the ridge and traversing on steep snow slopes up+hoping we can get to the other side later, or do a short snow traverse, scramble down on some questionable rocks and stay to the left. We decided to stay left, and it turned out to be a right decision. After we got down we approached a steeper snow climb up. We continued on. Took a couple of breaks to drink our almost frozen liquids and eat some snacks. Night was getting lighter as sunrise was getting closer. After getting over a steeper section, we got on another snow climb up. As we approached the end to this snow climb we encountered something that looked like "catwalk."
Which one is the "Cat walk?"
Looking down this "fun" chute
Max on the cat walk
Neither of us knew totally how it looked so we decided to hook a right and traverse on it. We were very wrong, it turned out to be something way different, and way more dangerous, but in the same time it was a definite highlight of our climb and only one of two places that could make it a class 4 route. As we started our traverse it did not appear difficult. Snow slope was a bit steep, but it was possible to kick in OK steps and traverse without problem. As we got to the other side it got steeper, more exposed below, and it had some sections where I had to hold my breath since some of the snow was more icy/had some rocks under and it was hard to use ice Axe to self belay. As we got to the end of the traverse we encountered a steep chute up. This chute was a mixed rock, rime ice type snow climb up. Exposure behind was breath taking, so were the amazing views on to the ridge. In the end of this chute was a short but very questionable vertical rock wall that had to be climbed, and steep short section of rime/snow we had to climb in order for us to top out on the ridge again.
Moments like this require a head-cam, too bad I don't have one. I was able to snap a few shots, but taking pictures there is just not safe, you need both of your hands and concentration. All of us were able to safely climb over that wall, and short rime ice/snow slope. We topped out on the ridge again, and all knew it was something different from a catwalk. Short (50meters or so ?) walk up from there was something that looked like "real" catwalk.
Shastina and I
It was pretty exposed walkway with a few very, very narrow sections, I had to duck and almost crawl under all the rhyme-ice that was right above me. Self belay with ice axe was very difficult at those sections since axe just wouldn't go in, I had to use sharp end of axe's head for my belay at some point. Max and Bryan went around this section (section before was a bit mentally draining and I think altitude was getting to them), since I thought it was "the catwalk" I decided I can't miss the "highlight" of this ridge (later on I found out it wasn't a real catwalk, I gave it "rat-walk" as a nickname since it was way more narrow than "the catwalk"). After getting to the end of it I noticed that Max and Bryan are somehow still behind me. I realized altitude must be hitting them (unlike me they did not do a 14er weekend before. I had some stomach cramps, and light headache, but was totally ok at this point). When I got to the rock that blocked some wind for me (which turned out to be beginning to the real catwalk) I rested a bit, got more fluids/snacks in and waited for Bryan and Max. Talking to them I realized Max was pretty wasted, Bryan felt pretty shitty but claimed he is not quitting (love this guy). Sun was already up a bit and it hit us on the catwalk which was a great mood booster for me. Real Catwalk itself was exposed, but had a wide walkway going up. It was probably 3 times as wide compared to "rat-walk." I did not find it difficult or scary, even though I am sure when snow conditions there are different it could get pretty nasty. At this point I knew we were close to the summit and was sure that after we are done with the real catwalk/get over to the other side of the hill closer to Whitney Glacier, we will see Misery Hill. This is how it turned out. After we got over to the other side (traverse left and over from catwalk), we saw Whitney Glacier, Misery Hill, and the Summit. We had a pretty amazing view of Shastina as well. At this point I knew there is no way I don't summit.
Summit behind me
We took another short break, and started up Misery Hill. Max was lagging, but than seemed fine, and made way up with a pretty ok speed. This time Misery Hill was pretty annoying since we completed all the climbing and knew that it is our only obstacle on our way to the summit. I tried to forget that it is a 30minute or so walk up this thing, and continued to put one foot in front of other as if I was a programmed robot. Bryan and I got over it, and waited for Max. When Max did get up, he informed us that he will not be continuing. It was a big shock to me, since we had only to walk through the plateau and had about 200ft of elevation left. But he stated he is very nauseous, dizzy, and "if I continue up, I might not have the strength to get down." I know he wouldn't say that unless he was feeling REALLY shitty (but I still wonder, maybe if he did not go out clubbing night before our departure and got enough sleep instead, maybe he would have more energy?!), so we decided it is best for him to descend Avalanche Gulch (since he took that route before, and it is a pretty "easy" way down). He rested at that spot a bit more, while we got across the plateau and climbed up to the summit. For some strange reason, it was very calm on top compared to how much it blew on the ridge. After we got on the summit Bryan checked the time and we realized it was 09:30am, it took us only 9 hours from Bunny Flat! We felt much better after we spent some short time on the summit and had snacks. We decided to descend quickly since we wanted to catch up to Max and make sure he is OK.
Traversing down to Green Butte from Sargent's
Making camp on Green Butte
[img:617015:alignright:small:Summit behind me]
On our way down we encountered another SP member "rhyang" who also was doing Casaval Ridge solo (he actually posted a picture of our log entry on a SP forum thread and was the one who clarified which one was the real catwalk for me). After a brief conversation we continued looking for Max. We wanted to make sure he did not fall asleep by some rock, so we thoroughly scanned the area around Misery Hill. Continued down to AG and encountered a skier who let us know that he saw our friend "flying by" him in an uncontrolled slide! However we saw Max standing in the middle of AG above lake Helen. I picked up Max's ice axe from the skier and continued down. When we caught up to Max, he let us know that he took off his crampons at some point in the gulch and tried to glissade, but went out of control because the snow was too hard. He had a burn blister on his wrist (he got through the glove trying to break his slide), and some scrapes on his nose/pretty long one on his hand. Also, there was another woman that was going up the gulch (skier's girlfriend maybe?) who slipped and went into out of control fall down the gulch as well. She had crampons on, but lucky for her did not get one of those stuck in her calf. As I understand she only had scrapes and bruises also. It is a good lesson not to underestimate any point of any mountain. Even though I am sure during late part of the summer there will be people who will make it to the top wearing running shoes (like me in 2009), but I would advise anyone to be careful and focus on your climb no matter if it is your first mountain or you climbed K2 with couple of gallons on your back for a better workout. We continued making our way down, talked to some people on the way, and were in the parking lot in about 12 hours after our departure. About 7300ft of elevation gain, up and down in 12 hours! It felt great, and I hope we plan another adventure very soon! To me Shasta is one of the few places I can visit many times and not get bored of. It has numerous other routes I want to climb, and I will be back.
Casaval vs Green Butte
[img:615096:alignleft:medium:Traversing down to Green Butte from Sargent's]
CASAVAL vs GREEN BUTTE/SARGENT'S
People would ask "WHICH ONE IS EASIER?" To that question I can say couple of things..Casaval Ridge is not easy, BUT exposed parts CAN be avoided. OUR trip up Casaval was technically harder (than green butte/Sargent's route variation I took), and more exposed because we took a bit different route variations from the "usual." But I think this (route variation) is the only way to justify class 4 on Casaval. So If you want class 4, take the way we took, if you want class 3, don't. And if you want to avoid everything you can do so by taking West Face. And of course you can make it as hard for you as you want on both routes, there are several things you could do to make it even harder (get on the other side and traverse, climb on top of pinnacles etc use your imagination).Green Butte/Sargent's had some difficult route finding, and some steep traversing to be done after Green Butte merges into Sargent's. Both are very scenic routes I would really do again. And their snow pack condition and difficulty may be different day to day depending on how much it snow/didn't snow, and how much the wind altered the pack. Good luck!
[img:615089:alignright:medium:Making camp on Green Butte]TIPS:
1) Fuel yourself up -eat and drink a lot of food and caloric beverages such as juices. Replace your electrolytes. Don't diet on the mountain. Hydrate.
2) Don't underestimate the mountain. Bring all the proper gear(crampons, ice axe, helmet, tent, snow shoes at times, shovel, stove, sleeping bag, pad, glasses, map/compass, avy gear), know how to use it (practice putting on crampons etc before you get on the mountain), know your limits (yes, it could be a walk up via calm AG in the late summer, but you could end up in a whiteout on a steep ridge as well. Make sure you have what it takes to get out of it safe).
3) Have your own brain. If there are 10 people glissading and you think that the snow is too hard for it- don't follow them. And don't glissade with crampons on.
4) To keep warm bring a nice warm jacket for standing around in the camp. Also, it is nice to boil your water, fill up the nalgene and put the bottle in your sleeping bag (raises temperature in your bag), but make sure to tightly close the cap.
5) Get in shape. You could do it if you are not a pro athlete, but it helps you enjoy the experience if you are in shape. Best workout for going up hill with a heavy load is exactly that-pick a hill and go up it with a heavy load for several hours x 3 times a week.
Take time to rest and recover for a few days before you attempt. It matters how you conditioned few month in advance, during a week before your climb take it easy and recover. Your body gets stronger in the recovery process.
6) Have some camping/snow camping experience before you attempt it during months when there is a load of snow on the mountain. It will give you idea how to keep dry and warm. If you don't know how to keep dry and warm when you are up there you will not have a good time.
7) Ask rangers about forecasts/conditions on the mountain before you go, check out www.shastaavalanche.org for weather/avalanche forecast, ask around on summitpost.org for advice (people here are friendly, and answer my questions when I need help).
8) Give a 100% if you are not sure you can do it. Don't go out to clubs/bars the night before. In my opinion, if you do you will not get laid, and you will most likely fail even before you begin the ascent.
9)Willpower-you know your goal. You know what it takes to accomplish. Stick with it.
10) Mount Shasta is a mountain you don't have to be scared of, RESPECT IT, and enjoy it's beauty.